Getting Right With Lincoln: Mike Pence

Less than twenty-four hours after Hillary Rodham Clinton accepted her party’s presidential nomination, Abraham Lincoln entered the contest. Or at least Mike Pence, the Republican nominee for vice president, wanted to weigh in on a recent controversy by citing Lincoln.

Pence attempted to explain the comments of Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump concerning whether Russia had gained access to the e-mails of then-Secretary of State Clinton by invoking the words of the first Republican president (at least as he remembered them):

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump wasn’t trying to encourage Russia to hack Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails earlier this week, Trump’s vice presidential pick Mike Pence said ― he was just trying to be like Abraham Lincoln.

Pence, the governor of Indiana, invoked the Civil War-era president on Friday while defending Trump’s statement that he hoped Russian hackers have Clinton’s emails.

“He’s just simply saying, ‘gosh, if they’re out there somewhere, I would like to see them.’ … You know, Abraham Lincoln said, give the people the facts, and the republic will be saved,” Pence told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “I mean, I think that’s the point that [Trump is] making. He’s not encouraging some foreign power to compromise the security of this country.”

Pence is fond of invoking this quote, and he’s used it before to advise a president as to what to do:

“Is this the tapes thing?” Bush asked, referring to two ABC News reports that included excerpts of recordings Saddam Hussein made of meetings with his war cabinet in the years before the U.S. invasion. Bush had not seen the newscasts but had been briefed on them.

Pence framed his response as a question, quoting Abraham Lincoln: “One of your Republican predecessors said, ‘Give the people the facts and the Republic will be saved.’ There are 3,000 hours of Saddam tapes and millions of pages of other documents that we captured after the war. When will the American public get to see this information?”

Apparently that did not happen.

It’s a commonplace observation that everyone running for office wants to have Abraham Lincoln on their side, and it must be nice when that’s the case. So we can now expect someone to ask a historian what Lincoln really said, and we’ll await that series of reports.

In the meantime, however, I’d like to point out to the Republican standard bearers that once you bring Lincoln into a presidential campaign as an authority, you leave yourself open to having other people quote Lincoln as well. And so I’d like to leave them with a Lincoln quote from 1855:

I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy.

Well, we know someone who likes Russia.

Frederick Douglass Pays Tribute to A Flawed Hero: Abraham Lincoln

emancipation_memorial

On April 14, 1876, prominent Americans, led by President Ulysses S. Grant, gathered to dedicate a monument that tells a story that we today do not entirely accept: an image of Abraham Lincoln freeing a representative slave, who (depending on one’s point of view) is rising or kneeling (note, however, the clenched right fist). Among those who offered a somewhat dissenting point of view was Frederick Doulgass. You may find his complete remarks here.

Let’s take a closer look at what Douglass had to say, both to us as well as his audience that spring day:

Few facts could better illustrate the vast and wonderful change which has taken place in our condition as a people than the fact of our assembling here for the purpose we have today. Harmless, beautiful, proper, and praiseworthy as this demonstration is, I cannot forget that no such demonstration would have been tolerated here twenty years ago. The spirit of slavery and barbarism, which still lingers to blight and destroy in some dark and distant parts of our country, would have made our assembling here the signal and excuse for opening upon us all the flood-gates of wrath and violence. That we are here in peace today is a compliment and a credit to American civilization, and a prophecy of still greater national enlightenment and progress in the future.

For Douglass, of course, much had changed over the past two decades. After all, nearly twenty years before this monument was dedicated, people were killing each other in Kansas over the fate of slavery there; blacks risked everything as they sought freedom, only to find that white southerners had enlisted to power of the federal government to stop them through the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850; and the nation would witness a southern congressman bludgeon a northern senator on the Senate floor. Far from being an institution on the verge of collapse, slavery was a thriving enterprise, so much so that some people wanted to reopen the transAtlantic slave trade so even more white people could own black people.

Now things were different. In front of members of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the President of the United States, Douglass wanted to remind the world that

… we, the colored people, newly emancipated and rejoicing in our blood-bought freedom, near the close of the first century in the life of this Republic, have now and here unveiled, set apart, and dedicated a monument of enduring granite and bronze, in every line, feature, and figure of which the men of this generation may read, and those of aftercoming generations may read, something of the exalted character and great works of Abraham Lincoln, the first martyr President of the United States.

Stop and think about what Douglass is saying, to whom he is speaking, and when he is speaking. Douglass declared that his people have “unveiled, set apart, and dedicated a monument,” so it’s not a white man’s monument, although it is a monument to the role played by a white man in emancipating the enslaved. But there, listening to him, were members of a Congress that no longer could pass legislation to protect the freedpeople; there were members of the very Suprme Court that had knocked down efforts to protect black freedom just weeks before in the Cruikshank and Reese cases; and there was the president of the United States, who had acknowledged the futility of attempting to protect black eqaulity in the face of increased opposition by the white American public. Talk about speaking truth to power, even when it’s merely implicit.

We fully comprehend the relation of Abraham Lincoln both to ourselves and to the white people of the United States. Truth is proper and beautiful at all times and in all places, and it is never more proper and beautiful in any case than when speaking of a great public man whose example is likely to be commended for honor and imitation long after his departure to the solemn shades, the silent continents of eternity. It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man.

Usually one does not possess such audacity, but then one does if he is Frederick Douglass. To acknowledge that the man celebrated in bronze was less than perfect, even flawed, on the day that monument is dedicated, is remarkable, and no more so than when the subject is Abraham Lincoln.

He was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country. In all his education and feeling he was an American of the Americans. He came into the Presidential chair upon one principle alone, namely, opposition to the extension of slavery. His arguments in furtherance of this policy had their motive and mainspring in his patriotic devotion to the interests of his own race. To protect, defend, and perpetuate slavery in the states where it existed Abraham Lincoln was not less ready than any other President to draw the sword of the nation. He was ready to execute all the supposed guarantees of the United States Constitution in favor of the slave system anywhere inside the slave states. He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty master were already in arms against the Government.

Boom! And it’s all true, of course.

The race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration. Knowing this, I concede to you, my white fellow-citizens, a pre-eminence in this worship at once full and supreme. First, midst, and last, you and yours were the objects of his deepest affection and his most earnest solicitude. You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step-children; children by adoption, children by forces of circumstances and necessity. To you it especially belongs to sound his praises, to preserve and perpetuate his memory, to multiply his statues, to hang his pictures high upon your walls, and commend his example, for to you he was a great and glorious friend and benefactor. Instead of supplanting you at his altar, we would exhort you to build high his monuments; let them be of the most costly material, of the most cunning workmanship; let their forms be symmetrical, beautiful, and perfect, let their bases be upon solid rocks, and their summits lean against the unchanging blue, overhanging sky, and let them endure forever! But while in the abundance of your wealth, and in the fullness of your just and patriotic devotion, you do all this, we entreat you to despise not the humble offering we this day unveil to view; for while Abraham Lincoln saved for you a country, he delivered us from a bondage, according to Jefferson, one hour of which was worse than ages of the oppression your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose.

Having defined Lincoln as the “white man’s president,” and having reminded his listners that African Americans were “at best only his step-children,” Douglass still says that it’s perfectly fine for whites to erect more monuments, more memorials … indeed, it sounds as if he’s describing the Lincoln Memorial of decades hence. Yet for Douglass, flawed hero though Lincoln might be, he was the president who struck a fatal blow against the peculiar institution, and for Douglass, that’s what matters.

Our faith in him was often taxed and strained to the uttermost, but it never failed. When he tarried long in the mountain; when he strangely told us that we were the cause of the war; when he still more strangely told us that we were to leave the land in which we were born; when he refused to employ our arms in defense of the Union; when, after accepting our services as colored soldiers, he refused to retaliate our murder and torture as colored prisoners; when he told us he would save the Union if he could with slavery; when he revoked the Proclamation of Emancipation of General Fremont; when he refused to remove the popular commander of the Army of the Potomac, in the days of its inaction and defeat, who was more zealous in his efforts to protect slavery than to suppress rebellion; when we saw all this, and more, we were at times grieved, stunned, and greatly bewildered; but our hearts believed while they ached and bled.

Note that critics of Lincoln who say as much lack Douglass’s moral authority. Note that they also lack Douglass’s ability to see beyond these shortcomings and to place them into context.

Despite the mist and haze that surrounded him; despite the tumult, the hurry, and confusion of the hour, we were able to take a comprehensive view of Abraham Lincoln, and to make reasonable allowance for the circumstances of his position. We saw him, measured him, and estimated him; not by stray utterances to injudicious and tedious delegations, who often tried his patience; not by isolated facts torn from their connection; not by any partial and imperfect glimpses, caught at inopportune moments; but by a broad survey, in the light of the stern logic of great events, and in view of that divinity which shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will, we came to the conclusion that the hour and the man of our redemption had somehow met in the person of Abraham Lincoln. It mattered little to us what language he might employ on special occasions; it mattered little to us, when we fully knew him, whether he was swift or slow in his movements; it was enough for us that Abraham Lincoln was at the head of a great movement, and was in living and earnest sympathy with that movement, which, in the nature of things, must go on until slavery should be utterly and forever abolished in the United States.

Given that Douglass himself did not hesitate to criticize Lincoln during the early years of the war, this is no mean admission, even if one suspects that his charity is enhanced by hindsight.

Nor shall I ever forget the outburst of joy and thanksgiving that rent the air when the lightning brought to us the emancipation proclamation. In that happy hour we forgot all delay, and forgot all tardiness, forgot that the President had bribed the rebels to lay down their arms by a promise to withhold the bolt which would smite the slave-system with destruction; and we were thenceforward willing to allow the President all the latitude of time, phraseology, and every honorable device that statesmanship might require for the achievement of a great and beneficent measure of liberty and progress.

That’s quite a reaction to a document which Richard Hofstadter once said had all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading. Sometimes it’s the act that counts.

Then Douglass turns to a theme that’s quite popular with Lincoln’s critics: Lincoln’s racism.

I have said that President Lincoln was a white man, and shared the prejudices common to his countrymen towards the colored race. Looking back to his times and to the condition of his country, we are compelled to admit that this unfriendly feeling on his part may be safely set down as one element of his wonderful success in organizing the loyal American people for the tremendous conflict before them, and bringing them safely through that conflict. His great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin; and, second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow-countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.

If Douglass were to look at some of Lincoln’s critics today, especially those who remain quite fond of the Confederacy, he would not find them “swift, zealous, radical, and determined” on behalf of human equality. In some cases, he’d use those terms to describe their continuing commitment to white supremacy and privilege, especially those people who seem upset at critics of white supremacy and privilege. I don’t think he’d have any patience for those folks who whine about “political correctness,” either. Rather, as he suggests, often we must take people as they are, but we must never forget who they are.

And Douglass, unlike so many of Lincoln’s critics, knew who Lincoln was:

Though Mr. Lincoln shared the prejudices of his white fellow-countrymen against the Negro, it is hardly necessary to say that in his heart of hearts he loathed and hated slavery. The man who could say, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war shall soon pass away, yet if God wills it continue till all the wealth piled by two hundred years of bondage shall have been wasted, and each drop of blood drawn by the lash shall have been paid for by one drawn by the sword, the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether,” gives all needed proof of his feeling on the subject of slavery. He was willing, while the South was loyal, that it should have its pound of flesh, because he thought that it was so nominated in the bond; but farther than this no earthly power could make him go.

One could point out that a Native American speaker might have something to add to that: after all, Little Big Horn was about ten weeks away.

But now behold the change: the judgment of the present hour is, that taking him for all in all, measuring the tremendous magnitude of the work before him, considering the necessary means to ends, and surveying the end from the beginning, infinite wisdom has seldom sent any man into the world better fitted for his mission than Abraham Lincoln.

Douglass paid tribute to Lincoln the man and the president, reminding people of the task before him and the critics who assailed him … although Douglass did not remind the audience that he had been among those critics at one time. Them after detailing Lincoln’s murder, Douglass came to his concluding remarks:

Fellow-citizens, I end, as I began, with congratulations. We have done a good work for our race today. In doing honor to the memory of our friend and liberator, we have been doing highest honors to ourselves and those who come after us; we have been fastening ourselves to a name and fame imperishable and immortal; we have also been defending ourselves from a blighting scandal. When now it shall be said that the colored man is soulless, that he has no appreciation of benefits or benefactors; when the foul reproach of ingratitude is hurled at us, and it is attempted to scourge us beyond the range of human brotherhood, we may calmly point to the monument we have this day erected to the memory of Abraham Lincoln.

Douglass came to mind last night as I watched events on television. I recalled that although he was an advocate of women’s rights, he defended the need to prioritize black rights first. He was, after all, a flawed hero, too. But imagine what he might have thought. What would he have made of our nation’s first black president endorsing and embracing the first female to be nominated for president by a major political party? That scene might well have interested the man who once (without his approval) was nominated for vice president on a ticket that featured the first woman, Victoria Woodhull, to be nominated for president, albeit by a minor party (both Douglass and Susan B. Anthony preferred Ulysses S. Grant for four more years). He might be forgiven for expressing astonishment that it was none other than the party of the slave power who was now moving in a direction even he could never have anticipated.

I speculate that for Douglass the scene in Philadelphia, birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, would have made him smile. He might observe that it certainly had taken a long time, but that, like Lincoln, some people, however flawed, were at least on the right track.

 

 

 

 

Even More Ranting …

Several readers of this blog have drawn my attention to yet another rant about me from an unhappy fellow blogger.

Brooks Simpson is a paragon for an underlying fault among many academic historians identified by Harvard’s Gordon Wood that might explain why Simpson thinks publishers have been “duped” into issuing my books and articles:

… many historians have become obsessed with inequality and white privilege in American society. And this obsession has seriously affected the writing of American history. The inequalities of race and gender now permeate much of academic history-writing, so much so that the general reading public that wants to learn about the whole of our nation’s past has had to turn to history books written by nonacademics who have no Ph.D.s and are not involved in the incestuous conversations of the academic scholars.

Really?

First … although Gordon S. Wood received his PhD from Harvard, he taught at Brown University until his retirement. Gordon and I met way back in 1986 during a convention in Knoxville, Tennessee, and ate at a Pizza Hut. As I was but a graduate student at the time, I doubt he remembers the meal: I did because the first book I read as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia was his The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (1969). Those of you familiar with the book will recognize why I would remember that assignment.

Second, I said that the blogger in question “is a very funny person posing as a student of the American Civil War. He’s duped other people and publishers into believing the same thing.” You would think that someone pretending to be a qualified historian would render a quote and its meaning correctly, but then in this case that’s much too much to ask.

Having established the level of competence of my critic, let’s now look at the major charge: that I’m “obsessed with inequality and white privilege in American society. And this obsession has seriously affected the writing of American history.”

Ah, yes. A biographer of famous and powerful dead white men in presidential, political, and military history is obsessed with inequality and white privilege. We await the citing of actual examples from my work … oh, that’s right … only a real scholar would support an accusation with evidence, and, once again, that might be too much to expect in this particular case.

I have also been accused with being obsessed with race, class, and gender. Clearly an interest in those subjects, in the eyes of my critic, would simply mark me as engaging in “incestuous conversations.”

Now, you’ll point out that Gordon Wood used those words, and I concur. What we’ve seen in recent years is that certain bloggers, including those who whine and yammer about political correctness, evil Yankees, and so on, have taken to citing Wood’s essays bemoaning the course of American historical writing, which in turn are reactions to his later work (see this essay for a useful overview). Apparently merely quoting Wood serves as sufficient analysis in their challenged minds.

I need not repeat what I’ve already written about these themes: you are directed to what I thought would be my comments delivered at the March 2013 conference on “The Future of Civil War History” hosted by the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. If anyone wants to debate or discuss those comments, they can do so here … or from their own blogs (instead of issuing foolish challenges to “debate” a subject of the blogger’s own choosing … the whole idea of blogs is that one can have these discussions and debates right here, available to everyone, even if some people don’t get that). Essentially, I believe that you can’t offer more than a rather narrow understanding of the American Civil War if you don’t incorporate the themes of race, class, and gender into your work as part of historical understanding. That’s not a sign of “political correctness,” a claim which in this context smacks of intellectual triteness. If your interest is in narrowly-focused battle and campaign studies that simply drop officers and men onto a battlefield and narrate the resulting fight as if it’s an online version of a HALO firefight, why, you are welcome to it.

Real historians know that the story of war is more than that. Let’s move this conversation into a different venue, that of professional sports. Now, I’m sure you could write a wonderfully detailed description of the 1978 playoff game between the Red Sox and the Yankees featuring a home run by Bucky Bleepin’ Dent, but a far better book (or a book on the 2003/2004 ALCS clashes) would talk about the impact of money on the construction of each team’s rosters, the stories of how the Red Sox were jinxed, how teams represented in some fashion the fanbase that supported them, the increasing impact of media, notions of ownership, and so on. In other words, a truly rich and memorable account of those contests would take readers to many places, not simply Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium, and would touch on many subjects.

The same can indeed be said about writing a study of the Gettysburg campaign. You would get a lot more out of it if you wrote about how race, class, and gender (as well as politics, ethnicity, and so on) were woven into that campaign. These perspectives would come naturally to a gifted writer who had thought long and hard about these matters.

But not everyone feels this way … including, it appears, my critic:

Before 1998 official information provided by the Civil War National Park Battlefields like Gettysburg were specific to the historical events on the battlefields and the military campaigns connected with them. The Park Service avoided statements about the causes of the war for two reasons. First, they were unnecessary to the study of the military events. Second, they were subject to conflicting interpretations, best left to visitors to decide for themselves….   The Park Service was wise to originally focus on the historical military events at the National Battlefield Parks. It should have declined to add editorials about the causes of the war, which are inevitably subject to “interpretive spin.” 

Let’s begin by suggesting the remarkable ignorance that this statement displays about Getteysburg National Military Park, especially its mission statement, which speaks about interpreting the battle and the Gettysburg Address “within the context of American history.” It’s rather difficult to make any sense of the Gettysburg Address without understanding something about the causes of the war, including the debate over slavery, and what had happened to that point of the war, especially in regards to slavery. But, contrary to the narrative offered by my critic, who seems wonderfully ignorant about the evolution of the park and its mission, it was in 1990 that Congress defined the mission of the park as follows:

. . . In administering the park, the Secretary [of the Interior] shall take such action as is necessary and appropriate to interpret, for the benefit of visitors to the park and the general public, the Battle of Gettysburg in the larger context of the Civil War and American history, including the causes and consequences of the Civil War and including the eflects of the war on all the American People.

That 1990 came eight years before 1998 escapes the fine mind of my critic, who wants to blame a single person, Dwight T. Pitcaithley (whose name my critic spells in multiple ways), for what has happened at GNMP.

In short, the twisted rendering of historical fact and interpretation by my critic results in utter nonsense masquerading as informed narrative, although I suspect that in saying this I’ll be accused of “political correctness” in following some unstated agenda … at least, that’s what some people will say.

Now that we’ve established that my critic’s familiarity with the basic rules of evidence and chronology suggest a fundamental lack of competence, we can move on to discuss whether we might obtain a better understanding of what happened on various Civil War battlefields if we integrate race, class, gender, ethnicity, and overarching political aims in our interpretation of those battles and battlefields. I would think this to be painfully obvious, but then some people (including, one ventures, serveral recent critics) seem blind to the painfully obvious. Let’s just mention a few items in passing …

Isn’t it better to visit Harpers Ferry if you have some idea of why it became important in 1859?

We talk about the Irish Brigade and the German immigrants in the XIth Corps. Might an understanding of ethnicity help us there?

Robert E. Lee noted the need to offer the home front some relief in 1863 by invading the North, an idea that might well have been reinforced by the Richmond Bread Riots. Might we need to know more about the home front and how women experienced the war as a way to understand military decisions better? What about Lee’s orders on how to treat civilians? What about the role of women when it came to desertion?

How can you explain why Abraham Brian was not at his rented farm on Cemetery Ridge in July 1863 if you don’t know about the activities of the Army of Northern Virginia in capturing blacks?

What do you make of conscription and the notion that it had become a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight? Class, anyone?

Gee, folks, why was Antietam important, period?

Why did generals continue to choose to command from the front, even though that exposed them to deadly enemy fire? Might it have had something to do with morale, inspiring the men, and responding to expectations of manly masculine behavior that defined courage in certain ways?

Yes, I know, I’ve left out many possible questions. It’s a few items, remember?

Some people must not even think of asking these questions if they think that to raise them demonstrates an interest in race, gender, class, ethnicity, and overriding political aims (to name but a few concerns), marking them as “politically correct” or too interested in “inequality and white privilege.” Talk about fear and insecurity. I believe differently. One gains a far richer, more thoughtful, more insightful, and fuller understanding of what generals and soldiers did–and why–if they just open up their minds and imagination to the complexities involved in being historically accurate.

And if you don’t believe that, I feel sorry for you.

(Mind you, the blogger in question also declares that “the attack on Confederate heritage is often an attempt at cultural genocide.” Really.)

 

Research Exercises: Winslow Homer’s Watching the Shot

homer watching the shot

Poking around the internet at the convergence of two of my research interests … Winslow Homer and the 5th New York Infantry … along with a Facebook post from Diane Monroe Smith, brought me to a rather interesting website which explores one of Homer’s lesser-known works, “Watching the Shot.”

I have reason to doubt that this painting combines all the elements claimed by the researcher. The mention of Antietam seems a distraction, for bridges at Antietam look far different. Nor would one easily recall an action where Francis C. Barlow and the 5th New York were in close proximity. Indeed, let’s set Antietam aside: the 5th New York was in reserve at Antietam behind Middle Bridge, still recovering from the devastating losses it suffered at Second Manassas. Nor do I think this piece portrays High Bridge in Virginia: that’s a much higher bridge than offered here, and of course the 5th New York was not present at a battle that took place some 23 months after the regiment went home. But maybe someone here has a different opinion or a better one. In any case, enjoy.

The Character of The Virginia Flaggers

While most Americans have been preoccupied with far more serious issues involving the future of this country, Connie Chastain has returned to blogging in yet another attempt to portray the Virginia Flaggers as victims. This time, it’s “character assassination,” although Chastain favors the wording “to character assassinate” for some odd reason.

There’s no doubt that the Virginia Flaggers are an amusing cast of characters in a reality show with more than enough guest appearances by white nationalists, white supremacists, racists, bigots, accused kidnappers, fans of child pornography, and the like. But it is hard to see them as people of character, given their associations. Why, for example, would people of character rent land from two avowed racists for planting flagpoles? Why would they engage in attempts to discredit their opponents through “anonymous” postings and campaigns that fizzle out once one hints that their sources is to be discovered within Flagger membership? Would people of character openly violate the very boycott they demand of a town’s businesses to make a point? Why would they obstruct an effort by officials to see whether a child was safe? And would people of character employ a shrill ugly bigot and racist as their webmaster and occasional spokesperson?

And that’s just for starters. People of character would denounce white nationalists and white supremacists, not embrace them, march alongside them, and defend their bigotry. People of character would distance themselves from disgusting individuals and sympathize with victims instead of trying to portray themselves as victims. People of character admit mistakes and renounce associations. Even now we hear how the Flaggers are going after a Confederate heritage advocate who thought it best to renounce any association with someone arrested on charges of trafficking in child pornography, as if to do so was a bad thing.

People of character wouldn’t do that.

The Virginia Flaggers, from their leader Susan Frise Hathaway through their webmaster Connie Chastain to their membership, find it impossible to be people of character. They are simply characters, and characters who bring shame, embarrassment, and humilitation upon their supposed cause of Confederate heritage, when in truth it’s all about self-promotion, selling things, getting in the media, and travelling on the rubber Confederate chicken circuit.

The notion of “character assassination” presumes that someone possesses character that is being targeted. Telling the truth about them and revealing them as frauds, liars, racists, bigots, hypocrites–you name it–is not character assassination. Nor is revealing when they have made fools of themselves.

Reading Connie Chastain rant about character is funny. That the Flaggers embrace her to do their “heavy hitting” (and lying) reminds us that not only are the Virginia Flaggers devoid of character, but that they also are a disgrace to the memory of the soldiers they pretend to honor. They are a lasting black mark on the face of Confederate heritage, which they mock with their antics and whining. So much for southern “honor.”

But as characters, they sure are funny.

Susan Hathaway Explains

In a break from tradition that nevertheless sounds traditional themes, Susan Hathaway of the Virginia Flaggers took to Facebook to share her reaction to the revelation that a Confederate heritage activist she had once praised for his action to protect children had been arrested on fifty counts of charges concerning child pornography transactions.

hathaway 070616 1

You can see I’ve gotten someone’s attention.:)

Susan Hathaway sure knows a lot about blogs she claims she hasn’t read in a year or so. Of course, she’s also made that claim in past years. But she also claims to know why people do what they do. Just like Connie Chastain does.

By the way, my speaking schedule remains as crowded as ever. My, my, but she can’t get anything straight.

But I do like that she’s finally admitted that she’s the head of the Flaggers. She’s not like Connie Chastain, who can’t make up her mind as to whether she’s a Flagger or knows what they say or do. Call that situational membership.

Susan continues:

hathaway 070616 2

Note the lack of concern about the victims of child pornography. But then the Flaggers were not concerned about a child who was kidnapped by a Flagger, or when a Flagger got himself arrested in front of his children (as they were videotaping him). So, nothing new here.

Of course, Hathaway did not just know Jason Sulser. She praised him:

Sulser and Hathaway (2)

Susan’s deepest respect? Must not be worth much. “You are the reason none of our women or children were seriously injured.” How ironic.

Susan concludes:

hathaway 070616 3

Yes, Susan, your words, deeds, and actions speak for themselves. Mind reminding us why you no longer appear at the War Memorial Chapel at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts? And let’s not forget the need to invoke God … that same God that brought you Rob Walker.

Next you’ll claim that none of you ever knew anything about Matthew Heimbach. Or that you had no idea that this was happening. And on, and on, and on …

We’ve seen this movie before, folks. No doubt we’ll see it again.

Once question remains for sincere advocates of Confederate heritage: Are you mad enough yet?

 

 

Trouble in Flaggerland

Readers of this blog will recall that Confederate heritage advocates, led by Connie Chastain (the webmaster and sometimes spokesperson for the Virginia Flaggers … especially when spokesperson Susan Hathaway falls silent, as she is wont to do in situations like the one we’re about to discuss), were overjoyed to find out that among the commenters on this blog were two people who had been charged with sexual offenses. That one was in fact a frequent commenter on one of Chastain’s old social media sites and that it was rather broadly known that I despised the person in question made no difference; that it soon became known that another Confederate heritage advocate whom Chastain had embraced as a friend apparently had prior knowledge of that person’s child pornography habit but remained quiet was hurriedly concealed. And, of course, there was the case of the Confederate heritage advocate who doubled as a fandom writer who liked to write about cartoon character minors having sex … the Confederate heritage gang quickly made excuses for that as “art.”

Somehow, to attack this blog because of the criminal activities of two people who once commented on it (I blocked both of them) seemed a stretch, especially in light of the white supremacists whom the Virginia Flaggers embraced as allies, friends, and business associates. After all, I did not know either of these people, and they were not my associates: I thought one was a jerk. That the fandom writer was particularly exercised about my decision to ban these commenters stuck me as rather curious but fairly predictable given what passes for logic and integrity among the Flaggers and their friends. Nevertheless, child pornography is a horrible and disgusting crime, and sexual assault is inexcusable. I would hope we can all agree on that.

Well, now we’ll see exactly how outraged Hathaway, Chastain, and their ilk in the heritage community are at the news that one of their own, Jason Sulser, has been charged with 50 counts concerning the distribution of child pornography. Sulser’s a highly-visible Confederate heritage advocate, having once started a petition calling for the removal of John Hennessy as the NPS historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP.

This blog has long been aware that Hathaway once praised a registered sex offender as a gift from the Almighty, but declined to pursue that story. In this case, however, other sources broke the tale even as it made its way through Confederate heritage groups.

We can now expect Hathaway and company to pretend they never knew the person in question. And we should know better. Recall that Flagger favorite Tripp Lewis declared that white supremacist Matthew Heimbach was “a great guy.” Well, let’s see what Hathaway said about Sulser last year after that ill-fated rally in Washington:

Sulser and Hathaway (2)

So, Mr. Sulser, how do you reconcile these child pornography charges with your pledge to “run towards trouble to protect every woman and child in a dangerous situation”? Seems to me that you were rather fond of some of those “dangerous situations,” if these charges have merit.

Methinks Hathaway will have to reconsider that claim that “none of our women and children were seriously injured” given that child pornography injures and exploits children. But who knows? Let’s just hope she doesn’t invite him to the Flagger picnic this year, as she did last year (reminding us that the Hathaway-Sulser link was not a one-time-only affair).

Now, in years past, Chastain would start blaring and braying and baying and flailing away at her blog, but Backsass is basically Sadsass nowadays. Nevertheless, I’m sure she’ll comment, and her comment will contain false and misleading information … but she’ll do it because poor old Susan Hathaway will be too skeered to say anything. Just watch.

It will be interesting to see how Hathaway, her Flagger friends, and other Confederate heritage advocates spin this one.

Will the Ku Klux Klan Rise Again?

Basically, that’s the question offered in this article from the Associated Press (a video will eventually play to augment the article).

I was particularly struck by the following claim in the article:

Formed just months after the end of the Civil War by six former Confederate officers, the Klan originally seemed more like a college fraternity with ceremonial robes and odd titles for its officers. But soon, freed blacks were being terrorized, and the Klan was blamed. Hundreds of people were assaulted or killed as whites tried to regain control of the defeated Confederacy. Congress effectively outlawed the Klan in 1871, and the group died.

The curious construction of the second sentence, complete with the double use of the passive voice, is remarkable. Might the Reconstruction KKK have had something to do with conducting a war of terror against freed blacks (and their white allies)?

Maybe. Just maybe.

As for the rest of the muddled narrative, let’s assume that the author has at best a partial understanding of the Ku Klux Act of 1871, how President Grant used the powers it authorized him to use, and the degree to which Grant’s actions destroyed the KKK.

The various reincarnations of the KKK in the 20th century, while inspired by the Reconstruction KKK (or, to be more precise, by the portrayal of that group in the movie Birth of A Nation), are distinct from that organization, even if they have many things in common, including an identification with the Confederacy and the preservation of white (Christian/Protestant) supremacy through terror, intimidation, and violence. But to say that they are the same is to overlook a great deal.

It is also unfortunate that many people identify white supremacist terrorist violence during Reconstruction with the KKK alone. That would be incorrect. Violence and suppression against freed blacks started during the summer and fall of 1865: we can see institutional evidence of state-sponsored white supremacy in the passing of the Black Codes and in the shaping of the southern legal sysyem by the state governments founded during presidential Reconstruction (especially during the Johnson presidency). Neither the Memphis nor New Orleans massacres of 1866 were KKK operations. Moreover, the tendency to identify the KKK with Nathan Bedford Forrest tends to obscure the fact that many Confederate veterans, including prominent ones such as John B. Gordon, donned Klan robes and did all they could to counter the emergence of black equality and political power. The KKK was far more pwerful in 1867 and especially 1868, when it battled the advent of black political power and the Republican party, and the organization in various forms persisted into the early 1870s, proving especially important in the Carolinas.

But the so-called destruction of the KKK in the aftermath of the passage of the Ku Klux Act and Grant’s application of the act in South Carolina in September 1871 did not spell the end of white supremacist terrorist violence. Far from it. Such violence took new forms under new names and emplyed new tactics and strategies (see the Mississippi Plan of 1875) as it did much to accomplish what the original KKK failed to achieve. Occasionally even biographers of Grant ignore or stumble over this inconvenient truth, most notably in Geoffrey Perret’s 1997 study, which was virtually silent about Reconstruction in Grant’s second term. By paying far too much attention to the KKK as the expression of such violence, Perret blinded himself to what else was going on … or perhaps he simply didn’t know about it. We must not be so ignorant.

But wait … there’s more.

Like several Confederate heritage groups, the KKK makes for good video, especially with the Confederate flag waving in the background or in places like Stone Mountain, a place favored by, among others, the Virginia Flaggers. Indeed, it’s not hard to draw connections between the KKK, other white supremacists, and Confederate heritage groups, as this news item this past week demonstrates. Note that the KKK leaders portrayed in this report endorse Trump and pledge death to their enemies (although they then claim that they don’t mean what they say–we’ve heard that excuse before from Confederate heritage apologists when white supremacists have advocated violence). And, of course, many of you will recall Mr. Heimbach’s association with a certain Virginia-based Confederate heritage group, one the group’s leadership has never disavowed (recall Virginia Flagger Tripp Lewis’s declaration that Mr. Heimbach was “a good guy”). A review of the social media offerings of several Virginia Flaggers reveals that, like the KKK and their buddy Heimbach, they, too, support Donald J. Trump for president.

Then again, Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was prominent in KKK circles during Reconstruction, did much to play down that association when he appeared before a congressional investigating committee in 1871. The Virginia Flaggers would like to do the same with their association with Heimbach and other white supremacists, including two people who rented them land upon which to fly their flags near Virginia interstates. But how can we forget that the spokesperson of the Virginia Flaggers, Susan Frise Hathaway, openly idolizes Forrest and Wade Hampton, whose Red Shirts used white supremacist terrorist tactics to regain control of South Carolina’s state government? The woman in the red dress loves that man and his Red Shirts.

As Mark Twain once reminded us, although history may not repeat itself, sometime it rhymes.